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Shabbat Parashat Noach| 5771

Parashat Hashavuah: Is an Industrial Revolution a Blessing?

Harav Yosef Carmel

What brought the generation of the flood to the lowly spiritual level that was their undoing? Our parasha does not deal with this explicitly in detail, which should make every G-d-fearing person wonder.

In its general description (Bereishit 6:11-13), the Torah mentions four times the root of the word hashchata (corruption). It also mentions chamas, which according to Chazal has to do with theft, twice in these p’sukim. Chazal picked up on the matter, as Rav Yochanan says: “See how great the power of chamas is, for the generation of the flood violated every transgression, yet their judgment was not sealed until they got involved in theft” (Sanhedrin 108a).

These observations, though, do not explain what brought about the deterioration, which we will now attempt to explain. We find the word hashchata prominently in the introduction to the song of Ha’azinu, at the end of Parashat Vayeilech (Devarim 31:29-30), as it says: “I [Moshe] know that after my death you will certainly become corrupt.” Hashchata is cited in the Song of Ha’azinu itself (Devarim 32:5-6), where Bnei Yisrael are therefore called “naval (disgusting) and not wise” (ibid.). There, though, there is an explanation of the wrongdoing: They ate all sorts of fatty, extravagant foods, “became fat and kicked” (using the metaphor fitting of an animal) and acted disgustingly toward Hashem (ibid. 13-15). In other words, physical luxuries and a life of over indulgence can bring on horrible decadence. Using linguistic parallels between the Torah sections of Ha’azinu and of the generation of the flood, we can surmise that the same or similar was true of Noach’s generation.

After illustrating the scriptural basis for this assumption, it is reassuring to find this idea in the gemara: “The generation of the flood was haughty specifically because Hashem granted them a multitude of goodness” (Sanhedrin 108a). Rav Tzadok Hacohen (Pri Tzaddik, Parashat Noach) also develops this point.

It is interesting that the affluence of that time-period can be traced, from a natural historical perspective, to Noach himself. Noach’s name indicates that people said about him that he would bring solace from the hard work and pain that surrounded the earth’s curse at the time of Adam’s sin (compare Bereishit 5:28-29 and Bereishit 3:17-19). The midrashim (see Tanchuma, Bereishit 11) tell us that Noach developed plows and other crucial agricultural equipment to deal with the weeds and thorns that the ground had been cursed with.    

Technological advancements make the world a more noach (comfortable) place to live in and frees up time to be involved in other activities besides making ends meet. However whether people will use this to develop a closer relationship with Hashem or, Heaven forbid, to rebel is up to them. This is one more example of something that presents an opportunity and a challenge. Let us always try to make proper use of our many blessings.

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is dedicated to the memory of
 George Weinstein,

Gershon ben
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